John Mejia connects to the Charlotte community to heal
John Mejia lost his wife this time last year and shares how the Charlotte community has helped him to heal. Community-care is just as important as self-care. John's mission goes way beyond himself. Each Coffee with John leaves someone else with more compassion, a sense of belonging, feeling noticed, and with an understanding that we are all truly connected.
Now let's get to know John's story. And at the end, find out how you can have coffee with John.
How long have you been in Charlotte?
13 years this summer!
When did you move to the US?
At the age of 12, I moved from Colombia to finally join my mother who came three years prior. During our time apart, I lived with my older sister.
What prompted your mother to move to the US?
My father passed away when I was six-years-old, which was the impetus to move to the US. I am grateful for my mother’s decision and courage. My mom was a doer—she always did what she had to do.
You are just returning from a momentous trip. Where did you go?
My son graduated from high school this year. In celebration of his milestone, we traveled to Colombia for the first time in 12 years. We also recently shared a birthday, so you could say it was a gift to ourselves as well.
Your photographs from the trip are beautiful. How did it feel to be back in Colombia?
Joy! Joy in seeing my brother whom I had not seen since my last trip to Colombia. Joy in being together with my three siblings for the first time in 30 years—the last time we were all together was when one of my sisters got married. And joy in sharing the experience of this trip with my kid, especially showing him the small town where I was born. That was one of the highlights of the trip for him.
Yikes! You are about to become an empty nester! What will you do?!
While I am going to miss him tremendously (we are very close), I look forward to reconnecting with myself and with hobbies in my newfound free time.
You became a single parent almost a year ago when your wife passed away. How have you grieved, healed, and been able to look forward?
I owe a lot to the Charlotte community. I would not be where I am today without the support we have received. For a homebody, she certainly knew a lot of people who would become a part of my life. My wife, Larissa Estrella, met others while leading Zumba classes at the YMCA and while a member of Las Maris de Charlotte, a club for Latinas with over 200+members. Larissa’s network easily grew as she had a sparkling personality that allowed her to easily connect to others.
While Larissa was in treatment for breast cancer, her friends drove her to appointments, organized meal plans, created GoFundMe campaigns, and provided incredible emotional support. I am honestly humbled by the support we have received. It’s my belief that you receive what you put out there.
Why do you think so many people gravitated towards your wife, Larissa?
Her friends called her Sunshine. Lari, as I called her, was just that kind of person. She was radiant, positive, and kind.
What event made it even clearer that community is everything?
My wife’s friends organized a 600 person Zumba event at the Forest Hill Church to support her during her second year of treatment. Getting on that stage and seeing all those people smiling and showing their support, that was one of the many moments. Larissa never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her. Instead, she wanted a big party. This event looked like a concert with an engaged, enthusiastic audience dancing and smiling. And it was all made possible through the efforts of friends, strangers, acquaintances. It was a beautiful and humbling experience. Part of Lari’s legacy is a network of people for my kid and myself.
What has been your male perspective on this journey?
My drive to share is greater than ever, especially with men. It’s difficult for men to be emotional or find the space to be emotional, but it’s so important for me to be open and encourage others to do the same. We have to honor our emotions.
Connecting to others and sharing our story is healing. How are you connecting to other people in the Charlotte community?
In the beginning, I started meeting people for coffee. Some people I knew, some were just acquaintances, and some were complete strangers. Since I started meeting with people fairly often, I decided to call it Coffee with John.
Love the initiative! What do you typically discuss during Coffee with John?
There is no pressure to talk about anything. I have no planned agenda. We just talk, put ourselves out there, and get to know one another. The result is therapeutic and healing. If people need a more structured, ongoing group, I would suggest joining a grieving group. The important takeaway is not to go through anything alone. There are so many stories out there, stories that need connection.
How many "Coffee with John" meetings have you had to date?
43. If we count this one, then 44.
How long has it been since your wife, Larissa, passed?
It will be a year this August 30th.
Our heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your story with others who are hurting. What else did you learn from her cancer journey?
It’s vital for women to do routine breast exams and to be in tune with their bodies.
How do you practice self-care and stay in tune with yourself?
Yoga at the Y helps. I love feeling the energy in the room during a hot yoga class. I have also pushed myself to yes to opportunities I might have turned away from before, like taking an improv class.
Give yourself permission to try new things!
What do you love about Charlotte?
I have lived in Florida and New York City but Charlotte has a community that I haven’t experienced in either of those places.
How can the people of Charlotte connect with you?
I welcome talking and getting to know people from all walks of life. If people want to read about my Coffee with John, they can check out my blog, at coffeewithjohn.home.blog. Also, feel free to connect with me through Instagram or email at firstname.lastname@example.org!